Last time, we examined formal kinds of organizational authority — those that are conferred by institutions or by the organization itself. They are the kinds of authority that are most often in our awareness. Probably at least as important, however, is informal authority — that conferred by the people of the organization without the approval of the organization.
Because organizations are so complex that we cannot possibly formalize all needed interactions, informal authority is essential. But it is also threatening, because it can undermine the intentions of the organization. Here are three examples.
- Affective authority
- Affective authority influences by means of affect or presentation. In person or in recorded media, affective authority depends on charisma, manner, and demeanor. But it can also include eloquence, bearing, anger displays, charm, enticement, seduction, and more. In print or recordings, it further depends on production qualities such as design and aesthetics. It is the principal means by which we motivate and inspire.
- Because of its power, affective authority can threaten the organizational mission. Its power derives from its access to our emotions, outside our awareness. The threat to the organization arises because affective authority can lead us to make choices that undermine or conflict with organizational missions.
- Bargain authority
- Bargain authority derives Because of its power, affective
authority can threaten the
organizational missionfrom bargains — written or unwritten — between people. In the bargain, one or several parties cede specific, defined authority to another, usually for compensation. Once the bargain is struck, either party can invoke the bargain to influence the other with respect to future bargains decisions.
- In healthy cultures, unwritten bargains proliferate. People honor them and value others who do. Some do abuse bargain authority, by reneging on or re-interpreting bargains, or by using bargains to manipulate or coerce others. In toxic cultures, bargain authority abusers succeed, but only at high cost to the organization. In healthy cultures, bargain authority abusers generally fail because they quickly exhaust the pool of potential bargain partners.
- Afflictive authority
- Afflictive authority derives from the ability to inflict shame, pain, blackmail, threats, and other punishments or disincentives. Anyone willing to afflict others can potentially exercise afflictive authority.
- Afflictive authority is essential to human society because it is our primary means of personal defense. But it is also the basis of bullying. It is from skillful use of afflictive authority that bullies maintain their influence over others, including not only their immediate targets, but the bulk of the rest of the population that surrounds them. Afflictive authority is also found in ordinary toxic conflict. For example, in feuds or duels, the parties usually confer afflictive authority on each other. It is the principle vehicle they use to influence each other.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming September 27: On Working Breaks in Meetings
- When we convene a meeting to work a problem, we sometimes find that progress is stalled. Taking a break to allow a subgroup to work part of the problem can be key to finding simple, elegant solutions rapidly. Choosing the subgroup is only the first step. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
- And on October 4: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: I
- Conversational narcissism is a set of behaviors that participants use to focus the exchange on their own self-interest rather than the shared objective. This post emphasizes the role of these behaviors in advancing a narcissist's sense of self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 4.
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